Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009 - Sudan

Publisher Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC)
Publication Date 17 May 2010
Cite as Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2009 - Sudan, 17 May 2010, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Quick facts
Number of IDPs4,900,000
Percentage of total population11.6%
Start of current displacement situation1983
Peak number of IDPs (Year)2,700,000 in Darfur (2008) 4,000,000 in Southern Sudan (2004)
New displacement530,000
Causes of displacementInternal armed conflict, generalised violence
Human development index150

In 2009, Sudan continued to have the largest internally displaced population in the world. By the end of the year, about 4.9 million people were displaced in Darfur, the Greater Khartoum area, Southern Kordofan and the ten states of Southern Sudan, with unknown numbers of IDPs in the other northern and eastern states. Their circumstances varied hugely: some people had been displaced for more than two decades, while others were newly displaced in 2009.

Sudan has long been the scene of internal conflicts instigated by various rebel groups in response to an unequal distribution of resources and a concentration of power in Khartoum. In Southern Sudan, armed conflict broke out soon after Sudan gained independence in 1956. That conflict ended in 1972, but in 1983 civil war started again between the government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In January 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) established home rule for the ten southern states under the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, and provided for a referendum on secession in 2011.

The CPA did not fully resolve the demarcation of the border between the north and the south, instead recognising three transitional areas (Southern Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile), whose final status as part of either northern or southern Sudan was governed by a separate protocol to the CPA. Tensions, around the oil-rich area of Abyei in particular, have remained high.

In eastern Sudan, conflict between the army and an insurgent coalition which became known as the Eastern Front continued from 1997 to 2006, when the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement was signed. Progress in the implementation of the Agreement has been slow, and the region remains among the poorest in Sudan.

Armed conflict broke out in Darfur in 2003, when two loosely-allied rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement /Army (SLM /A), took up arms against the government. As with Sudan's other conflicts, the causes of the war in Darfur lay in a history of neglect by the central government, and a failure to share resources and wealth. However, the dynamics of the conflict have changed over time, with the rebel movement fracturing into a large number of rival factions. The Sudanese government and one of the major rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), signed a joint declaration of goodwill in February 2009, but peace negotiations were repeatedly suspended in the course of the year.

People displaced within Sudan by these conflicts have either sought safety within their own region or they have fled to the rapidly-expanding agglomeration around Khartoum and to other cities in Sudan's northern states. In Southern Sudan, IDPs were mostly dispersed among host communities; a sizeable number sought shelter in towns. The conflict has led to even more pronounced urbanisation of Darfur, where the percentage of people in towns and cities doubled from 18 to 35 per cent between 2003 and 2009, and where many of the IDP camps are urban settlements in all but name. IDPs in eastern Sudan live in camps as well as in urban and semi-urban areas, notably in Port Sudan and Kassala.

Estimates for the total number of IDPs (from the south, Darfur, and the east) in the greater Khartoum area vary widely. By the end of 2009 UNHCR estimated that there were 1.7 million IDPs in Khartoum, including in the four areas officially designated as IDP camps by the authorities. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) maintained that in 2009 at least two million southern Sudanese people remained displaced in Khartoum, but Sudan's fifth population and housing census (the results of which were released in May 2009, a year after the census was held) provided a much lower number of just over 500,000. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that many southern IDPs have been displaced for years or decades (and their children have been born in displacement), and have integrated economically, if not socially. Since 2005, significant numbers of southern IDPs have returned from Khartoum to the south, but some have since gone back to Khartoum after failing to re-establish themselves in places of origin where access to basic services and livelihoods was very limited.

In January 2009 the government adopted a national IDP policy which set out IDPs' rights during different phases of displacement and the required responses to their needs. Sudan also ratified the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in Africa's Great Lakes Region, including its protocols on the protection and assistance of IDPs and on the property rights of returning populations, but the government did not start implementing these instruments in 2009. By the end of the year, Sudan had not yet signed the Kampala Convention.

Sudan is the scene of the largest humanitarian operation in the world, with estimated needs totalling $2.18 billion at the start of 2009 and $1.88 billion at the start of 2010. It is the only country in the world with two international peacekeeping forces: the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in Southern Sudan and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

In March 2009, following the indictment by the International Criminal Court of President Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, 13 international NGOs were expelled from northern Sudan (including Darfur, the eastern states and the Transitional Areas), and three Sudanese humanitarian organisations were disbanded. These 16 agencies had deployed 40 per cent of the aid workers in northern Sudan, and delivered more than half of all assistance.

The prospect of durable solutions for the many displaced groups continued to depend first and foremost on the achievement of sustainable peace across Sudan, and on the economic and social development of areas long neglected and then devastated by years of conflict.


Following clashes between rebels and government troops, up to 140,000 people were newly displaced in Darfur in the first five months of 2009, bringing the total number of IDPs in Darfur to around 2.7 million. With a further 270,000 Darfurians having fled to refugee camps in Chad, about half of Darfur's total population was displaced. A further two million people were directly affected by the conflict in Darfur and in need of humanitarian assistance.

The expulsion of the 13 international NGOs and the disbandment of three Sudanese aid organisations affected hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, with the provision of clean water and sanitation, hygiene and nutrition support most seriously affected. The expulsions combined with security concerns to reduce the access of humanitarians outside the three state capitals of Northern, Southern and Western Darfur.

In October the High-Level Committee, a forum established to enable the government and the humanitarian community to discuss issues related to humanitarian action in Darfur, endorsed the Joint Verification Mechanism on Returns, intended to ensure that any return movements in Darfur are voluntary, and that return areas have the necessary basic infrastructure and food supplies to receive the returnees.

2009 saw little improvement in the prospects for Darfur's IDPs. Efforts to obtain a peace agreement for Darfur remained unsuccessful, and the majority of IDPs continued to depend on aid. 45 per cent of the population of Darfur was food insecure, a far higher rate than anywhere else in the country.

Southern Sudan

The conflict in the south led to the internal displacement of an estimated four million Southern Sudanese, while half a million people fled abroad. UNMIS estimated that by June 2009, a total of 2.5 million IDPs and refugees had returned to their homes in Southern Sudan. However, the achievement of durable solutions by these returnees remained difficult. Southern Sudan is one of the poorest areas in the world, with very limited access to clean water, basic services and livelihood opportunities, and widespread malnutrition. In many cases, members of receiving communities, many of whom had themselves been displaced at some point during the war, were just as vulnerable as the returnees, and had little capacity to help them rebuild their lives. IOM has estimated that ten per cent of returns have not lasted and have led to secondary displacement.

Continuing attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army and a significant increase in inter-ethnic and inter-communal violence caused a significant deterioration in security in Southern Sudan in 2009, and led to the displacement of 390,000 people in the course of the year. Conflicts in the south undermined the fragile survival strategies of large numbers of people. In the worst affected state, Jonglei, more than 100,000 people did not cultivate crops during the 2009 season because they were displaced; as a result they will be highly food insecure in 2010. Even for households that were not displaced, conflict levels reduced the area cultivated and restricted the flow of goods to markets, resulting in increased prices of staple foods. Conflict over grazing areas also reduced access to grazing and to animal products. Conflicts also occasionally disrupted the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Following the signing of the CPA, donor governments pledged up to $2 billion in aid for the reconstruction of Southern Sudan. By the end of 2009, they had provided only a quarter of this sum to the Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF), and of that, only $181 million had been spent by the World Bank which administers the MDTF. The MDTF's performance has been hampered by World Bank procurement rules and the lack of capacity on the part of the Government of Southern Sudan to follow World Bank procedures.

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